BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - SUSPENSE

WYTCHCROFT

LockJaw complete version
Thursday, December 13, 2007

the full version of the interrupted fic. post BDM the Serenity crew are trapped on Mr Universe's moon, having dealt with a boy Reaver and a young Hunter - they now face the Mooon itself...


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1508    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

LockJaw

"No dirge shall I upraise,/ But waft the angel on her flight with a pæan of old days!" Lenore – Edgar Allan Poe. Chapter one: Darkness at the break of noon.

Under the lightning the wounded world below seemed to huddle in on itself. The damaged buildings, the broken metal spaceships and the corpses strewn among them seemed to shudder together. The angered roiling clouds were shaped demonic and they poured down darkness like a curse. Day blasted back into night. There had been a war here and what was left was simply storm and injury. The dry and acrid wind chased across the surface of what had been secret but now lay opened and betrayed. Steel fell from the sky and buried itself in the ground hot and hissing - or else smashed into its likeness with a tortuous concussion. There had been a war here and what was left was death and wreckage. …………………………………………

Hunter in the darkness – stealthy and soundless - Hunter in the light – swift and contained. Sniffing the artificial recycled air of the interior – savouring the scent of blood and skin, the salty tang of fear and violence, animal odours… easy to track, easy to hunt, easy to kill… and the hunter is a killer, moving off real easy now, with a shrug, like a bird into flight.

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Voices – They will float through a dark place like dust on a hot night – they will catch the ear, play itchy on the mind - and the corridors of Serenity were so very, very dark. “I don’t murder children.” “I do.” Zoe Alleyne heard the voices as she moved through the blackness, as she patrolled. It was typical of Malcolm Reynolds – she thought – not the obsessive playing and replaying of the Operative’s murderous statement… but the just the plain fact that he was doing it here – in the darkened interior of Serenity. The rest of the crew had at least attempted to make something of their stay in this place, on this moon – to make a show of trying out new, bigger, brighter, more private quarters - but not the Captain. He was right of course – Zoe knew that sooner or later they would gravitate back to the heart – back to the ship. Except her. Zoe’s heart was broken. It had been impaled with a spear the size of a giant harpoon and bled away in an instant. “I don’t murder children.” “I Do.” Her husband had not been a child – oh, he could be childlike, she loved him for that – so many of the men she met made a big damn show of their all conquering manfullness – but not HIM no. Child like… And hell he was just plain childISH – at times but… he was not a child, he was a man. He had been a man. Had been a husband. She HAD loved him for it. Past tense – past damn tense. Had married him for it. “I do.” Murdered all the same. And so there were voices in the dark – and the chambers of the heart rang hollow and empty with the slow pacing of her feet. But there were no faces, no lights, no husbands, no ghosts, no Wash and this was no place that she wanted to be. But she was. She was patrolling. Someone had to do it.

…………………………………………………..

And the animal – the prey… would scream – but it has no tongue. The hunter keeps close to a wall – feeling just a tracing of warmth– and again the scent. The sweaty mix of rage and terror. The hunter takes time, takes bearings – moves off further into the metal maze of the moon. The hunter was not afraid – not afraid. This was the thrill – overcoming the fear – over coming the prey. This was a personal hunt. The hunter could feel it in the hum of the corridor lighting, in the shadows of access tunnels, here in the depths. Everything was personal these days. When you boiled it down. Look out for yourself – watch your back. Hunt.

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“And you don’t think it’s strange you feel this way?” As often, Simon Tam’s words, mouth and eyes were aimed in three separate directions – even as his hands poked through the objects in front of him. “I’m just sayin’ is all…” the girl next to him pouted. “We got a good place to take our ease, rest up and tend to our – be tender to our… selves. Aint like we don’t deserve a little.” The young eyes flashed. “An’ I know we all been through the bad and back – tyen-shuh – but that was yesterday, to my way of thinking… don’t see why the Capt’n has to get so uppity – again. Thought he was startin’ to cheer up some but – it’s drivin’ ev’ryone away… y’know?” Kaylee Frye had been swinging her legs idly from the empty shelf on which she was sat, in the debris-strewn room, but now jumped down to playfully muss the good Doctor’s hair. Simon Tam sighed. “Well, the Captain… he’s not the average sort of… he can be difficult – he’ll come around.” “An’ you’re stickin’ up for him – an’ he was all for dumping you on some pi-gu outpost in the middle of… out there… an’ – now you have to… live in a cupboard!” Simon laughed at that – looking at her finally, the medic in him noting the dilation of her pupils, the subtle increase in respiration. “I’m taking stock, ordering things. Actually it’s quite interesting.” He opened the zip on a worn holdall as he spoke and scattered the contents. “I dunno,” said Kaylee, “seems kinda nosey to me. Hey – what’s that?” Simon had picked up a small box of discs. “Just movies I think – the tech on this is… I think they’re antique maybe.” “Movies?” Kaylee remembered Mr Universe’s fondness for ‘a bit of the old ultra-violence’ – p’raps combing through his old things weren’t such a - “What kind?” Simon began to read out the titles. “Bruce Lee – Game of Death part…” he stopped, his eyes catching something – an ID tag with holograph. He looked at it for a moment. “You know her?” Kaylee could see the ID image and it made her a deal curious - a girl, red headed like herself. She read the name: Luka DeVorres. “No, no – but I think Mr Universe must have.” “She’s pretty…” Simon put the ID down carefully. “Then I definitely don’t know her.” He turned and looked Kaylee in the eye again. She smiled. “Hey that’s nice - never imagined Mr Universe as havin’ a friend…. I’m glad he did.” Her smile faltered. Mr Universe was dead of course, like Wash, like Shepherd Book. She shook her head. “Aint there nuthin fun here? Y’know – a good movie, we could relax, have a smoke… when was the last time you relaxed Simon?” He raised a knowing eyebrow in reply and Kaylee chuckled appreciatively, leaning back now against the wide empty bunk-like shelf.

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The hunter moved through the complex – no stopping, no distraction – closing in now on the prey – like any wounded animal it had sought a corner in which to fight and die. Made it so much simpler to hunt.

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The luxurious chamber resembled a ballroom enough that the music swelling from the speakers seemed right somehow. The décor was spare but plush, all purple cotton padding, dark recliners edging the wide dark wooden floor. Red and amber spotlights picked out the graceful shifting bodies dancing under their beams. It was typical of Inara to have found this place. Spacious, quiet – wrapped in privacy like a lacy shawl. Somewhere she could feel calm, free of the tensions of the crew. By the same hand, it was just like her to want to share. She swayed with careful movements, keeping her body in time to the exotic tinged rhythms and her eyes on the girl, her dancing partner, River Tam. River wore a look of pleasure not seen in a fair run of days. But she was also frowning in concentration. This sort of careful dancing was not her way – by nature far freer and ecstatic than Inara – but she was studiously following the proscribed steps. Learning the rituals of the privileged all over again. Inara smiled encouragingly into the dark fringed eyes. Had she been this way herself before times? She wondered, keeping her arms and legs in even balance – guiding the girl in the formal manner. Had she once been a wild, raggedy darkling girl moulded into civilised shape by the halls where she had studied, by the stern tutors that patrolled them, the long hours of study… emerged as a fledging – companion in waiting – a girl no longer. Mmm… she tried to see – but all of that could be said of any… dammit, sometimes she felt almost like – yes, an Operative – all identity, memory, Self – erased and reconfigured by the process of learning, of training – and of doing. And then she cursed herself again – she was forgetting the most basic rules she had learned! Be in the moment - let the moment be in you. River had that. Naturally, like a gift. For herself it was… learned. “You doing very well, sweetie,” she smiled. “Not the fun of the fayre…” murmured River. “Not like lanterns bobbing on the evening water, not like – dancing…” She grinned – high kicking with sudden elastic release. That cracked Inara – she grinned wide and sudden at the girl – darn those legs of hers… the knees all grazed, the feet all bare – the damage she knew they could do. Well… “Ok, then I guess we can bring tonight’s prestigious soiree to a close.” She smiled again – in a more fitting manner - and moved to the music machine, lowering the volume. “I think we can say you’re making progress.” “Right – but yer won’t be makin’ no laady outta the likes a me now will ya?” River’s cockney accent was rusty – but no less funny for it. Inara caught herself grinning again. This was more like it – be in the moment. Then River added, “Not if you leave…” and the spell broke again. “River – you know… and I said, it won’t be – might not be for always – and just from here… I promised you could come to Sihnon, see the halls, the guild, my Sisters… but as with… everything – good things come to those that wait.” “Good things come in small packages.” “That too.” “I came in a box.” “Hell of a present you were too.” Inara laughed, reaching out to stroke the mischievous white face. …………………………………………..

Jayne Cobb had been having a whole of heap of fun – bull in a china shop, kid in a candy store fun - a whole moon to mess with – to explore and to loot. Hell yes, a manful amount of lootin’. Mr Universe’s moon was all his – he had only to reach out and grab the sundries offered. Clothing, food, souvenirs, bits of kit, anything he wanted – ‘cept that damn sword. He had really wanted the sword. Well, weren’t like that bastard Operative needed it no more – so what the Captain want with it? Mal weren’t no swordsman, been cut on enough by Atherton Wing to show that. No, but he kept the ruttin’ sword all the same. Yeah... things change though, huh? First – Cobb had started to get just a little… bored. No/one was talkin’ – Mal had locked himself up aways, like a girl, no use to no/one. And the women were avoiding him, and the Doc’ – well they aint never seen eye to eye on nuthin – an’ what Kaylee saw in the man weren’t nuthin but a foggy mystery to Jayne. Yup, been thinkin’ a leaving lately – aint no excitement here for a man – not one just been from bad guy to hero and back. Not one that was feelin’ the kind of restless that he had coming on. A man restless needs to find a piece of action. And the other thing – the NOW thing – the blood. Just a smear – a tiny smear edging the doorway of a corridor leading to another corridor and another gorram corridor after that. But blood all the same. It had set his trackers nostrils twitching right away. And there was the last thing – the tiny twisted piece of spikey wire thing. The hook. And that changed the whole deal completely. That had Jayne frozen for a moment – till he remembered the satisfaction of a fair killin’ and got to knowing he weren’t afeared of the same things no more. Bogey man belonged to children. He was a man. And the thing that bled – well, that was NOT a man. He knew what it was though. Couldn’t be but nuthin else. Plain and simple and changing everything completely. And, as he listened the waspish sound his charging rifle made, he knew he weren’t bored no more neither. Punching the wall communicator he mighta felt kinda sick – but he was not afraid. “Hey Mal!” He yelled at the wall. “You can quit moonin’ now an’ come on out. We got us some company – we got us some trouble. We got us a Reaver.”

............................................... End of part one.

part two – celebrated walking blues

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The hunter was close to striking – had got the lay of the land – was confident of the ways the prey could run, could try to hide. The hunter had driven the prey on, very deliberately – the wild rush of its flight only hastening the final end. From the very first moment, the hunter had been ahead in the game and had kept that mastery. It was just a little while of waiting now.

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Malcolm Reynolds was relieved to run into Zoe first of all his crew. “Sir?” She asked – her face composed and inscrutable. The Captain was momentarily lost for words – just as, for now at least – he had lost most of his attire, was - point of fact - clad only in a worn pair of beige pants. His hair had obviously been backwards through the bush proverbial. “No rest for the wicked.” He said at last. “Seems not.” She was discharging and changing cartridges as she spoke – checking and loading a weapon. Reynolds winced slightly – just once he would like to go a day without the sound and sight of weaponry. “Are we the wicked now?” Mal shrugged “I…” “Sir, if this is the point where you tell me about doing ‘questionable things’…” Zoe did not sound enthusiastic. “Wouldn’t be likely to Zoe. We both got cargo best left stowed for now.” “Sharing as always, Mal.” Inara Serra’s voice broke over the portable comm’ on Zoe’s belt. Mal pulled a face as she raised it into view. “Where are you ‘Nara?” “River and I are on the second level – we heard Jayne...” “How’s River – Mei mei are you”- “Ok, ok,” Reynolds snatched the comm’ from Zoe’s hand “Doctor get off the line – stand by. Inara, stay where you are. Jayne? Talk to me.” There was a burst of fluent Chinese swearing. “Oh, you up?” was the last of it. Mal’s fingers were tight around the communicator. “Yes I’m up gorram it. So you better be giving me reason enough…” “Reavers – like I said. Or one at least – found a clear trace – blood and wire.” “Is that possible?” Mal clicked the comm’ to OFF and looked at Zoe. “Sir, Serenity is sealed secure but the complex… might be a thousand ways in – could be a survivor found one of them.” Mal paused – taking this in dourly before switching the comm’ back to OPEN. “Great. Doctor? You told me you were examining the specs – can we organise something here – drive this thing out?” “I can do better – maybe. From the TV room… there should be monitors.” “Aint they all busted back to last year?” “Mostly, but… it’s…” “Worth a try. Kaylee with you?” “Yes Capt’n – I…” “S’ok Kaylee – you stick with the Doc, might be he needs some mechanical help. Don’t be scared.” He added quickly. “We’ll – ok, a little scared – but we’ll flush this bunger, it’s just a bad hangover from a bad night. Y’hear me?” “I sure do Cap’.” Mal nodded to himself. “Shiny. Jayne?” – “Sorry Mal - all that yammering, I done killed it already. Any of you wanna actually get down and dirty – hunt’s already started.” “ And just where would that BE Jayne?” “Storage – back a piece, figure it’s close – blood was fresh.” “We’ll flank in. We tooled? We’re tooled – let’s get the job done then.” A few minutes later Malcolm Reynolds and Zoe Alleyne came down the exit ramp from the bay of Serenity and out into the base complex of Mr Universe’s moon. The Captain did not sigh. The Woman with him did not look back.

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The hunter felt the field mice stirring – tiny sounds of skitter and twitch –felt the satisfaction of a good hunt. Yes, this was a good hunt – and a good day to hunt. The Hunter had known by the feel of the wind – the roar of the storm – the dark of the clouds. Wouldn’t be long now. Bit back the urge to howl out down the long low corridors. Bit back the urge to laugh.

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Jayne’s gander was up – woah mercy – don’t wanna mess with a man’s gander – nerve taut and gun steady – fast tracking now down the length of the corridors. Ruttin storage bay – so many little alcoves and run offs – cupboards and store rooms could be any one of… Easy now… For a big man – Jayne Cobb could move real silent with a mind to… There was something lying near the electrical junction box… wait – wait – breathe – just a coat is all… ragged and Reaverish… reeking of sweat and urine and – huh – meat… Thing musta tagged itself, run into the box and caught shock… Well, critter, that shock aint nuthin’ to what’s comin’ up on you now – fe fi fo fum I smell the blood of a very bad man with a very big weapon and the powerful itch to use it. Kicked out with a booted foot – still keeping to the wall – the coat shifted – left a smear – a little less fresh… Jayne span and tracked backwards, behind his gun, in the opposite direction.

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Sighing, Inara tied back her hair – moving back from the communicator. “Wait here he says… We should probably seal the doors – can we seal the doors?” She moved her eyes around the wide room as though for the first time. River had curled herself into a protective ball – she was gulping at air if flung suddenly into freezing water, her face, half hidden by hair, looked blurred and bloated as if she was pressed against glass – or fighting under ice. “Not… fair” she moaned. “Didn’t know – didn’t need to know – too soon - I don’t know – why did they tell...?" Inara had started to shove recliners up against the nearest door – not weighty enough to be an effective barricade, she knew – hell, maybe the mah teh dah would just trip over the thing and break it’s damn ankle. She just hoped River could stay together – it was hard to know… a kind of deadly still could come over her – or a wailing terror… She was known for both. And she’d been right of course – until they heard the comm, well – River hadn’t been upset at all. And there was no Simon here to help her.

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Simon himself had moved with real speed – nearly leaving Kaylee behind – tearing up a flight of cramped access stairs – along the narrow entry and into Mr Universe’s TV room. They stood for a moment, the two of them, and surveyed the smashed glass and fractured plastic that the Alliance had left behind. The upturned sofa – and the blood stained chair. Not much had been shifted as yet – save Lenore, Mr Universe’s LoveBot™. Out of Jayne’s reach, before he even knew about it. Kaylee was swearing softly in Chinese. “You think we can really…” Simon moved over to the main comp’ panel. “I don’t know – but… I suspect a lot of the damage is just surface – Alliance vandalism – not efficient at the best of times…” He looked up and surveyed the room again – something almost proprietorial creeping into the troubled blue eyes. “Well ok then.” Kaylee’s voice had a determined brightness. “You’re gifted clever with... stuff, and – I’m just a tyen tsa with machines…. You say sick… an’ I say broke… must be two such as us can get this mended… can’t be no harder than…” “Three impossible things before breakfast?” “Hell, it’s past noon an’ some already…” Kaylee was prizing open draws for tools and cursing inwardly that her kit was still on Serenity. “We best get down to it.” “Yes…” Simon’s eye had been caught for an instant by the shattered glass of the main internal monitor. Somewhere behind it was River… he fought the urge to reach out with a hand - somewhere she - “Doc’? Simon?” “Oh yes – sorry.” Tam shook himself and started looking for a heart beat in the wounded equipment before him.

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The hunter eased himself up into position – it wasn’t easy in a cramped corridor to claim the higher ground – but a cross of two slim iron struts had served well enough. The hunter was agile, balanced. The hunter was ready. ……………………………………… Mal and Zoe were keeping step with one another. Forward real careful with an eye on ambush and an eye on attack. Reynolds was itching to open the comm’ and make damn sure Jayne was where he was meant to be – but keeping silent was also keeping safe – was keeping up the pretence of some sort of advantage… was keeping up the pretence that the tight and military minded way of their movements counted for something – could keep at bay the shadowy and tricksome devil looked to be walking the corridors here with them. And there were so many corridors to walk, seemingly. As often at these moments Zoe seemed to read him right. She said softly “We’re keeping to the plan.” Did they have a plan? “A map might be shiny round about now.” Zoe breathed quiet agreement but “We aint wandered yet, Sir. Still coming from Jayne’s flank.” Mal nodded even as he inched to a junction, gun up. “It’s the up and the down of it as bothers me.” He flattened himself against the grey of a wall – poked his head around and back. “We need to make sure we’re the one’s as got the drop – not the one’s gettin’ dropped on.” Turning into the new stretch of complex - a wide well lit chamber that constituted the main internal entrance - they halted before an open lift shaft. Didn’t look to have been used of late but… “We could split Sir, come from two angles.” Mal shook his head. “Separating… never a good idea till you know your foe.” “You figure Reaver’s smart enough to…?” Mal didn’t answer – just gave the lift shaft a last baleful look and started forward again.

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Jayne weren’t so keen on where all this were heading. The corridors had begun to narrow – he’d tramped a ways along and down too – just how far down he was no longer certain… the sameness of view was beginning to disorient him. And then of course the lights began to flicker and the metal walls began to moan with the echo of something that Jayne couldn’t place. A low stomach like rumbling to set his damn teeth on edge. His weapon weren’t likely to waver much though. So the crazy liked the depths – so the powers that be on this ruttin’ moon had decided to add flickering light and moaning walls to the mix – well bring it on – aint nuthin but a spook house at the fayre… didn’t mess his mind overly. Never liked no damn spook house though. Vague memories of childhood daring – into the locked up spook show – years and worlds away. Didn’t like it then – don’t like it NOW! He threw his weight to a door at the end of the corridor – it didn’t resist and he was inside, gun first. Dingy room – pretty bare – another, heavier, door at the far wall – illuminated by the keypad lock. And again – coming from the floor, the stench of a trail. Oh he was close, could tell in his vitals – the crazy was on him before he knew what was happening – on him with a raging dry shriek – clawing at his head as it came from above him. The momentum enough to throw Cobb off-balance to bring him down – ungainly buckling to the floor. Throwing up his hands - frantic to swat the thing away – he scrabbled backwards with the corridor echoing the squeal of his rubberised boots on the metal floor. He was beating against the dark shape now with his gun. The dull sound of the handle hitting the flesh. Wriggling on his back still, Jayne came into a dim pool of light - was forced to see the face of the creature – the void expression – the gashed and biting mouth, the pierced cheeks, the scarred flesh, the blood coarsened hot breath and the stink of it. The stink of the creature. The stink of the child. Unable to look away – it took Jayne an instant to realise that the creature couldn’t get him – despite the quivery snatching maw of a mouth – despite the ragged hisses and the death written in the eyes – it was… chained, tethered somehow. The light caught a heavy collar – his ears heard the noise the chain made as it tightened and slackened with the Reaver’s moves – what the…? Creature's hands were hidden – were they tied? It took an instant to realise the wounded maddened killer infant Reaver was as much a victim as himself – but the hunter only needed an instant and the dart hit home. Jayne Cobb stopped moving quite suddenly – lay still under the face of the Reaver – he wanted to look away at least but he couldn’t – couldn’t blink even – couldn’t do nothing at all in fact except stare and keep staring at the maddened bloodied eyes of a Reaver no more than six years old. Couldn’t even let out a final angry sob from his paralysed mouth. He could only stare.

The Hunter smiled then in the dark.

……………………………………………. End of pt 2.

Chapter Three: Ghost dancing. River Tam was dancing as the sky fell in on her. Fingers spread wide catching flakes of white light, droplets of cold light, lighting her face with a glow from the inside. Touched her skin and painted it – enveloped in the white - like lime or chalk, pale eyes but burning... out across the chamber, as she slowly span – moving through the trees – dancing through the snow. “Always loved the orchard…” Her voice dragged itself back from some place distant – changed again – a guttural cry – her arms raised as if conjuring the heavens to come down. Inara shook her head in dismay watching the girl spinning - suddenly enacting some private routine – a game maybe – or just plain fear unhinged… Inara had seen plenty in her time – but, River – well, she was off most peoples’ radar. The spacious chamber they were in felt suddenly claustrophobic. “Sweetie – now really isn’t a good time for- ” She yelped as River appeared at her side staring intensely up at the Companion, the low moan from her rising and falling now in a weird ululation. Inara caught herself – where’s your composure? Gorram it! “River – it’s me, honey, Inara – you wanna sit down a while? You want me to get your brother on the comm’?” The wild girl moved her head as if listening to a different conversation. “We shall live again.” Despite herself Inara took a step back. River opened her mouth again and now the words tumbled out and over themselves - as if someone had suddenly switched on a random tape recording. “Played in the snow and it rubbed right into me – saw daddy’s face so pale – my brother told the secret – we the last now - know how the ghosts do it must be real we watched it on the screens….” She cried out again abruptly and her movements became slower – hopping from foot to foot then dancing up to and around Inara, her face a frightening blank.

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“Well this just plain invites trouble don’t it…” Captain Malcolm Reynolds looked at where the walkway split – into two tiers of dark narrow metal – with no guide rail. Behind, Zoe nodded. “High road, low road?” She asked. “I’m thinking more…” Mal pointed his gun arm at the first of the possible routes, “Scary monsters…” and at the second, “… super creeps.” Unlike her late husband – Zoe found this kind of referential conversation mildly irritating – and she didn’t like the sound of either option. “Remind me again how you keep our morale so high… - Sir.” She added. Mal didn’t respond – he lunged forward suddenly – grabbing something up from the floor. “Sir?” “Well,” Mal turned to face the first mate now. “An’ I do believe someone is playing us…” He lifted an open hand up to Zoe. Crouched in the palm was a single white petal – or piece of blossom. Fresh looking, clean and - as Mal wafted it beneath her - a natural appley scent cut through the metallic oily staleness of the air they were so used to breathing. Zoe’s eyes flashed. “This mean something to you?” Mal was quick to notice her reaction, but she was looking down at his hand again.

Zoe had loved the smell of the orchard – fresh blossomed even on a bad day like today, a grounding day – a burial day - a funeral, putting papa in the earth – and she was chewing her lip and thinking to herself and wondering over the talking of folks and how fire could be friendly – it never felt friendly to be caught in the flames and it sure never helped papa. Looking over at her mother so uprighteous and strong. And it was like she could smell flame now – come down with that long black shuttle… the one that brought papa’s body home with it – stubbing through the atmo and leaving a tarry stain on things – like one of Old Henry’s evil cigars it caught at the throat – caught in the nostrils and made the eyes do things they weren’t s’posed to – like cry a piece. Looking over at her mother so uprigheous and strong – and doing her daughterly best – her gorram daughterly best (yeah - but let ‘em hear the bad word in the good girl’s mouth – and the devil take ‘em!) to be like her. Didn’t take after her Mama much, folks said – but Zoe knew better. Never would catch Mama mistaking fire for a friend – or taking her eye off a something meant to be watched… and Zoe the same. Even when her eyes were smarting and salty sore, she was using them just fine – scanning the sombre faces of the funeral crowd – whole mess o’ family here – clustered mix of dark coats covering over the brown and the blue. She knew well her Mama’s worry about the reception later – Brown and Blue just weren’t cuttin’ up kindly on each other these days. Took something like a funeral – took something like a death - to bring a family close again. Not for long, thought Zoe. She could see clear the narrow looks from them that saw the orchard as up for grabs now. Browncoat might have to make a play for Mama herself and marry for it – but the ‘lliance could most likely just tear themselves off a strip and call it commandeering. Buccaneering her Mama woulda said. But Papa had been staunch for the Blue – ‘I’m all for a league of civilised men,” she’d heard him say on many occasions, “but lotsa folks gotta get the civil in ‘em first! Ho ho!” and his big chest would puff up with his satisfied smile and his low, low laughter “Ho ho!” No puff in that chest anymore… popped it with a medal and the air went right out. “Yes Sir.” Zoe would reply, hands behind her back, standing under the warm gaze of those eyes of his – but feelin’ her Mama at her back making sure her daughter didn’t crack wise or laugh outta turn. Weren’t like her mama never laughed though – oh she could laugh up a storm when she wanted… Zoe wished she’d do it now – a big storm blow the Blue suits, the Black shuttle, the Medals – blow it all back up into space. She kept herself still. Papa woulda wanted that most like. Maybe. Already she wasn’t sure. Maybe she’d ask Old Henry – cigars or not – she could see him huddled, despite the sun in a great brown coat, (“I’m black enough already – don’t need to wear none”, he had growled at her scowling Mama) a coat as looked older even than him. Yes Sir… maybe Old Henry – looking at her with sharp knowing eyes. Eyes like her mother. Alleyne eyes. Eyes like her own.

Those eyes looked up at Mal now as he repeated his question. “Zoe?” “Not greatly Sir, no.” Mal had folded his arms. “Only you look like you’ve seen -” Zoe clicked the safety on her pistol with an angry ratcheting sound. “Super creeps.” She said firmly heading off, stiff backed, into the dark. Cursing his lack of tact, Reynolds slowly eased forward along the higher walkway. “Piece of crap moon…” he muttered sulkily.

…………………………………..

Simon leap back from the monitor screen as if it were live and several thousand volts had smashed him backwards, his seat making an ugly sound beneath him. “WHAT was THAT? ” His voice was so rarely raised it made Kaylee blanche. “It looked like a ghost…” “Don’t be scaring me that like that!” Kaylee got her voice to work, “an’ you sound like your sister now.” She pointed a multi-spanner accusingly. “Sorry, Sorry” Simon replied instinctively, “but I …” trailed off as his fingers flickered over switches. “Definitely some sort of internal security systems… but I don’t know how to work them yet…” Kaylee had gone back to crouching with her head in a mess of wires and circuit board swearing her very best as her multi spanner and micro-solder went to work. There was a loud electronic refrain from a speaker near the Doctor. “I think we’re getting some power through…” He sounded relieved, leaning forward as if he would crawl right into the screen and through to River. “Shiny work there, Kaylee,” she said with obvious sarcasm, straightening up and putting her hands in her back pockets, “ – you hit it on the knee an' the leg can’t help but twitch.” Simon’s disconcerted head turned quickly towards her - then back to the screen again. “Wha -? Oh yes – sorry – I mean, thank you Kaylee.” “Why don’t mention it Doc’ – not that you nearly didn’t and -” the rest of her sentence finished with crude Chinese cursing, then “Ok, I see it too – and it IS gorram scary…” Simon didn’t answer – the ghostly figure on the screen had him transfixed. White painted from head to toe – the features were a kohl drawn abstract – it melted back into the darkness and bleached out under the fluorescent lights of the corridors it was moving down… towards them seemingly – for a full minute the thing stared full into the screen – out of the screen and at them – then it jogged back again. “I - I think it’s… dancing.” Simon was incredulous. Kaylee tore her eyes away and punched buttons on the console. “Cap – we see it – aint like no Reaver, I – it’s real near you I figure – access tunnel – near the auxiliary station.”

………………………………….

Her words had rung clear over the comm. – automatically making it live – Zoe could see the Captain shaking his head in alarm at having the silence broken, he was above and to the left of her – the walkways under their feet now little more than precarious gangplanks above a sheer drop into the inner workings of the moon base machinery. This was near where Mal took down the Operative, Zoe noted – even as her eyes scanned the darkness and she fanned the air with her pistol. Mal was keeping real still now – she could see – maybe hoping the echo of Kaylee’s words around the tunnels and ventilator shafts were count in their favour – if they stayed put… a risky strategy. Where the hell was Jayne? …………………………………

“I see him…” said Kaylee quietly. “Is he dead?” Appalled, she was staring at the blurry image of the prone man and the Reaver. Simon, beside her was pulling at switches. “Maybe we can – if I can – a scanner – or…” As if reading his mind – the image changed - the shapes on the screen turning first negative then a weird shimmering red. “It’s a heat signature…” “That means Jayne’s alive right. - ‘course it does.” Kaylee answered her own question. “But he aint movin’ – he must be out cold…” Simon shook his head. “Could be – but maybe not…” He pushed back from the console and half fell, in haste, from his chair. His hand made an instinctive grabbing motion for a bag he was not carrying. With a groan he stopped. “Stay here Kaylee – I have to get my bag – my medical bag.” “You mean stay, as in alone?” She did not sound keen. Simon was breathless with urgency. “I won’t be long – I promise – but – I think it could be urgent. And the Captain and Zoe they need someone here… to watch out for them” Kaylee pressed a palm against the desk before her. “Ok… I’m watching out – hell, am I watching out… How do you work this thing?” Simon was already in the doorway, but her words caught him. “You know – I’m still not sure – I think that it's set to some kind of automatic… detecting movement maybe. Block the door when I’m gone…” he added unnecessarily – but with real concern. Kaylee was used to feeling touched and frustrated equally, content to keep her thoughts to herself - but her knuckles were white now where her hand rested. Simon was gone.

………………………………………

The hunter danced silently along the twisting horizontal ladder – the honeycombing structure would have tripped someone – anyone – less fleet of foot… but the hunter had always been known as dextrous… jumping monkey-like now onto a dangling mass of seemingly random chains and hauling upwards back onto the flat. There was something capricious – celebratory in the movements. Well, the hunt was near done – the first prey had been easy – a scapegoat to trap the biggest threat – now the others were scattered and the real prey was left open and defenceless. Truth was, the hunter knew, there was hardly a danger anyhow. He could smell the prey above him – it was weak – but without fear – an interesting thing. But weakness was just that – weakness only. It would come to its end the same. The hunter smiled leaping from catwalk to catwalk – noiselessly. There – in plain sight now – the prey – still staring dumb at the still form of a man the Hunter had struck minutes ago… a man who would be keeping still forever now. Hunter had been warned to watch for Captain Reynolds – ‘unpredictable’ he had been told – and the file he was given said the same – it always paid to read up on what was to be hunted. The man had disappointed him though. And as he approached his prey, his prize, the hunter doubted that she, Zoe Alleyne, would be any different.

...................... end of pt 3 ......................

chapter four: dead man, dead man - when will you arise?

That season the snow came early again – and further – and deeper – drifting fit to bury a man. The Boy and His brother didn’t mind overly, the schools shut down - or simply vanished with a scrunching of corrugated iron and a last wheezy gasp of dying copper heat pipe - were the ones they had long ago rejected, had left to the drones. “Nuthin’ fer us in them places – ‘cept the Great Lie and the Big Sleep, Bro’… Wanna addle yer mind widdat paleface tomfoolery?” The Boy loved to listen to his brother, his wide way of speaking – so different from the careful yawning noise he heard everywhere else, or had done leastways – weren’t sure he’d heard a real voice in a great deal of days… maybe the cry babies got their way when the snow came… wailin’ on like ‘terra-forming aint held – we gotta ‘scape to survive – pack it up and roll on’… crying baby adults. Never was worth taking in a mite of what they said – weren’t so surprised when his Bro told him they were listening to the wrong ruttin’ language… “Y’get me? Our forefathers – our real Fathers-from-Before… on the Earth-That-Was… they had their own tongue – but it done got cut out – y’get me? We done lost our Tongue, Bro’… we aint no better than Reavers if we aint got no tongue… An’ they want us that way… Silent – like Reavers – silent like ghosts… silent like the snow… a heavy and continual presence… such a loud silence – the fall of it, the still of it – the open white space of it – the seeping numb feeling of it taking your toes and fingers. No tongue, no fingers and toes – hell that wouldn’t leave much! The Boy stuck out his tongue – and felt the bitter cold taste of it – raw and burning – on his tongue – coz he HAD a tongue now… Bro had seen to that – took a painful long while – stealing time in the viewer booths – getting’ access to the library – stealing the teacher’s laptop – going someplace alone to read (and the reading weren’t no easy feat) – to watch... all the movies, listen... to the scratchy old recordings half haunted in static, LEARN… get the moves down, get the look, the tell, the feel, the life of a gone culture... to get it BACK... but he had it now – or enough to get by anyhow. Bro got the tongue first of course – he used it, then he passed on it to the Boy – used it right and well to give them names, new names, fresh names – fresh as the snow. Bro’ had said “I am One-Who-Sings-Of-His-Fathers… and I am The Hunter.” Upsizing on himself – bare arms reaching up for a summer sun… a sun so red rich and warm – like a spiced apple, back then… “Tha’s my name. Yer a hunter too, ‘course… an’ yer name’ll be… Bird of Two Beaks… coz one day you will fly away – an’ coz sometimes wisdom comes from your mouth… an’ sometimes you talk outta yer ass!” And the laughing high and buoyant – The Brother cuffing the Boy hard in the chest and grinning like a wolf before its cubs.

“That’s not right! That’s not how it was!” River pulled her tongue back into her mouth and scowled across at Inara, who still had an arm raised. “It didn’t HURT before… and you said – sometimes I talk out my butt and that’s just….” Inara looked sheepish – but River started to laugh. It was a raggedy broken kind of laugh – but welcome all the same. Wu de tyen ah! – Inara had entered into the spirit of things so complete she could swear her goose bumps were just from the cold.

…………………………

Simon Tam was very often braver than he thought – as he tore along the access corridor in virtual darkness, it took him a while to realise that the heavy throbbing, drum-like sound, beating at his ears, was not simply the clamorous ringing of his footsteps - nor was it his own heart fit to burst. The noise was in fact surrounding him – rising up from and through the dull metal and dim. Push it away Simon, he told himself – push it away – concentrate – remember the task in hand – what you’re doing – where you’re going… Where was he going? – Had he remembered the route correctly? He’d seen the layout only briefly on the scanner – and he lacked his sister’s gift of recall… but Kaylee’s analogy had helped – seeing the Marenghi Apex type iV Luna Complex instead not as a ‘base’ but as a ‘body’… he was somewhere in the intestines right about now… Ok, so not totally positive with the analogy then…

…………………………

Kaylee Frye was much the same – when the door to the monitor room refused to open – when she realised that the automatic cameras were exactly that – whirring on and working throughout the moon without her say or let or control – she turned a sickly pale for an instant – the terror stark and obvious in her face. Then she got sore instead.

……………………………

Zoe frowned as she made her way through the shadows, crossing the narrow metal beam with care till it widened again. She was following a flash of white – glimpsed the barest instant fore disappearing quicker’n a Jack Rabbit into the black. Her eyes were roving the while, scanning the access and exit points – and far too many of them there were too – from wide gaping vent ports to narrow darkened air shafts… and all criss-crossed by pipes and conduits… hell of a place if any shooting went down… Ricochet? Hell. Bullet was as like to boomerang amongst all this metal… She could no longer see the Captain – but at least he was cleaving to high ground – that’d help some. She contemplated the floorway opening before her with some misgiving. Truth was Zoe Alleyne was not over fond of tunnels – just recent, on a wrong job, the whole crew - as near - had found themselves deep in the lead mines of one Xavier Clem… and it had fallen to Jayne to nose them out again – no, he hadn’t let ‘em forget that right quickly… That’d been the last time they’d pulled jobs for Badger – the Captain’s exasperation taking them over to dealing instead with the likes of Fanty and Mingo – which, in turn, had lead to… very bad things. On that thought she stopped her mental mouth - and dove into the opening darkness. There was no sound as she dropped into the hole.

………………………………

River was breathing in a more natural manner now – sat opposite Inara in a loose meditative pose.

Well, thought the older woman, this seemed to be going better than badly…

It had taken real effort but Inara had fallen back on her training – her skills, ‘wiles’ some called ‘em – being learned in the art of pleasing folk – giving out and reflecting back a client’s needs and desires… Simply asking “Where are you now River?” so rarely worked – the reply would often as not be a scowl, a helpless “I don’t know!” or simply - “with you of course” and a quizzical look. Beyond breathing and relaxing, there was little Inara could do FOR River – but there was plenty she could do WITH her. Stepping into character, playing out whatever psychodrama she was caught up in – hadn’t been but dancing really The hard part – if you left out the fear and the doubt and the gorram weird of it – was untangling the strands of River’s imaginings – they were as wild and unruly as her hair… but as each strand unravelled River became calmer, more focused - pleased with the new degree of control she was gaining… Well, there was an orchard – and there was snow – there were children – they were distinct – different times and places – overlapping here – right now in this quiet carpeted room - right here, right now on this bent and broken moon.

…………………………….

Simon could see the Captain up ahead, stiffly posed like some sort of action toy, legs braced, head down, gun in hand, jaw clenched. Ah – but then it would be, thought Simon. He had something for that. Moving confidently now along the passage and onto the walkway, Simon reached into his bag as he walked – by the time he was next to Mal the needed hypo and solution were already in his hand. He paused for a moment studying the abstract that Reynolds had become – the gestures and expressions of heroism possibly – or desperation – the man’s posture and weaponry signifying… Except that there was most definitely a living, glaring person behind the immobile face and the fixed stare. “Um,” said Simon bringing the hypo up and noting the reaction of Mal’s eyes – a slow response but definite – “This should work – on the paralysis – and it should work fast – essentially it’s adrenalin and dopamine – you can expect some after-effects though… some slight Parkinsonion symptoms – problems with prio-perceptive information…” He eased home the injection. Instantly Captain Reynolds crashed to the ground like a dumped sack of salt - as Simon knelt down beside, he could see Mal’s arms and legs beginning to shake involuntarily. The eyes seemed to relish a long slow blink and the jaw slowly freed itself – a voice, lowered and oddly toneless, found its words with difficulty. “P – per – prior engagement withhh a wha- whatt nohw?” …………………………….

Zoe was just letting her eyes adjust the interior of the duct – and wondering just how many kinds of dark there could be… It was easy to imagine Wash listing them. “Well, there’s the noisy kind of dark – in a good way – that’s my favourite ‘course, LambyToes… There’s the restful twilight, Mint Julip kinda dark, the Captain most likely aspires to… The sweaty dark – kinda Jayne’s patch – and then there’s the scary dark – the all kinds of gnashy and” – she shut that part of herself down – she was grateful for the intrusive vibration suddenly from the comm, lifted it to her ear. Inara. And she was keeping her voice low – for which Zoe was glad. “It’s not a Reaver, Zoe… it’s a Hunter – after us. More specifically you - hunting you.” A Beat. “I see.” “River mentioned an orchard – Apples, blossom – The Hunter’s been teasing you…” Kaylee broke in suddenly over the connection – close to the mic, her words were mixed with shrieks of feedback. “But that don’t work none! Apple’s just gonna make you mad – aint that so Zoe?” Zoe kept calm. “Surely, but Kaylee, this aint the time – right now I need you to hold. Hold Kaylee, y’understand?” “… Ok… It’s just… I’m stuck here – an’ I keep hearing things – and the knott in my stomach’s as bad as a five Moons cramp – an’ we’re already ON a moon an’” – “ Kaylee! ” Zoe knew how to roar in a whisper. “’k – I’m holdin’…” Kaylee acquiesced. Zoe stared off again into the dark. “’Nara – did River say who…?” “No – just something confused about a ‘gentlemen’ – but I’m thinking…” “Niska…” “You think so too?” “Actually – I don’t reckon it matters overly…” Zoe nodded as the short, white daubed figure moved out of an alcove and into plain sight – covering her with a pistol. Under the costume – beneath the mask – Zoe could see the whisker-less face of a youth.

…………………………………………….

Simon was lost – he’d been intent on finding Zoe or Jayne – after the Captain, making little sense, simply growled and shuffled off into a tunnel. Somehow the Doctor’s sense of direction had fled – there were walls, doors and unexpected sliding obstructions – each one accompanied by a moaning of gears and a hissing of pumps. Was it getting hot now too? There were bursts of lurid green light and he was starting to feel uncomfortably like one of the rats from med-training. They never came to a good end. Well – this was a dead end. Actually, not a good choice of words. He contemplated the stubborn slab of bronzed metal before him – then sighed and turned on his heel. Something strange was going on.

………………………………

If there was any unwarranted strangeness happening around them neither the hunter nor Zoe Alleyne were likely to make much mention of it – standing as they were eyeball to eyeball in a tense and kill-full standoff. Then Zoe broke – staring down at the hunter, the killer, armed as he was with the smallest queerest gun she had ever seen, and painted like some half blind picture maker’s idea of a swamp spook – she laughed. The hunter didn’t seem overly shaken by her reaction, waggling the pistol a little before speaking. “Y’know, in the old tongue – the language of my Fathers – the tribes of the Land before the Land in the Earth-that-Was… there weren’t no He nor She – things differed by the life put in ‘em.” There was stage-y affectation there – Zoe wondered if the hunter’s voice had broken yet. “A stone might live – a gun would be dead. Dead can still kill yer. A man may be alive… a ghost - dead. A dead thing holding a dead thing.” And the words had a half chanted, well-practiced ring – Zoe could imagine them rehearsed before a mirror – and in front of a captive audience. Made no difference to her though. “All I see is a boy-child with a firecracker,” she said. To her surprise the hunter smiled – his long lipped mouth rising up was eerily clownish – he dropped his gun with studied carelessness and stretched out wide his open hands. “May be a boy - may still, maybe – but I’m a ghost now – the killing spirit… don’t be mistaking me – I done killed men made that mistake.” He stepped forward – one step – but deliberate. Zoe raised an eyebrow. “Well killin’ a man aint right hard – don’t make it hardly right though.” The hunter’s head moved slowly side to side. “B’you...” Zoe didn’t seem to be looking the boy now – seemed to look through him instead. “In the line of duty – in the line of fire – most often the same damn thing.” She shook her head – irritated now. “But I don’t know why I’m wasting my spittle on you.” The hunter took another step. “Could be coz I aint so easy…” Zoe snorted. “I’ve seen the dead before… an’ plenty… men, women – kids like you – I’ve seen a valley floor littered with ‘em… the dead on both sides – which means… some of that chopping was done by me.” The wide painted eyes of the hunter were a glitter, he was close enough almost to breathe upon her. “But face to face – like this? Some might call that murder – an’ yer don’t murder children.” He spoke with a certainty that took Zoe off-guard. “Do you Zoe Alleyne…” She gazed at the young painted face before her. “I don’t.” There was something final in her tone. “Butth I shlurely do.” Mealy mouthed, but accurate as ever - Malcolm Reynolds stepped through the entry way and shot the hunter through the heart and stomach, dead, with two precise shots. The sound was ugly and loud in the echo chamber of metal enclosing them. Zoe let out a breath. Then turned to face the Captain. He wasn’t looking at her – not at first – he was looking at his gun hand. Resting as it was now, by his side, it had begun to shake – and violently. “Gorrammh…” He pointed his arm back into the tunnel he’d emerged from – fired a shot – the concussion again loud enough to… and his hand, steady – shook again upon relaxing. “Huhh.” Zoe opened her mouth – and the look in her eye was signal enough that what was coming was urgent and not altogether like to please. But the words never got spoke. Another voice cut across – even as sheet of solid iron slammed down between them and the corpse of the hunter. And it was not a friendly voice, despite the mocking humour in it. “Oh come ON people! – Walls have ears y’know – and when they do – y’really shouldn’t shoot so loud.” It was a voice both her and the Captain knew well.

…………………………………….

In the stateroom, Inara was still trying to take in what she’d heard across the comm. – the words, the shooting – and the grating soundings that followed. But it was River who jumped when the clear words rang from every speaker. “Too late! Oh you’ve done it now – earned yourself a place on a very special, I might say unique – can I say unique? Hell, let’s do it! A UNIQUE show – a private piece of Luna-cy, heh heh – that I like to call – and with all due respect to Master Kwai Chang Caine – The Corridor of Death.”

…………………………………….

Realising at that moment that he was trapped – contained – very much like the eponymous Rat in a cage – Simon smacked a hand impotently against solid metal. His furious Chinese invective cut short by the intrusive words of a man he thought very much dead.

…………………………………….

Sealed in the monitor room Kaylee stared at the face on the screens – on all the working screens – as it winked and nodded - glib in its humour even from beyond the grave. “Yes indeed folks,” said Mr Universe, “and speaking personally – I’d like to thank you all for entering our wonderful competition.” The sound of the pulsing walls and floors might almost have been applause. “Ah now - don’t be shy contestants! Step on up already and play - well, ok, so - choice not much of a genuine issue, but all the same – this is the only show in town willing to get down, to get dirty – to, seriously, because you know it would be serious - tackle the real issues… like, the man in the moon may be made of cheese – but what does he eat???… Well, contestants – what say we find out!” Listening to the grinding sound all around them Malcolm Reynolds and Zoe Alleyne were pretty certain they already knew the answer…

............................................. End of pt 4. ......................................................

Chapter Five: Journey Through Dark Heat.

"Moon – Moon – Moon… small word for a big heap of trouble… For aeons mankind has worshiped the moon – SHE the Luna Goddess Astarte – Ishtar – Selene – The phases of the moon – the three stages the triple Goddess – symbol of womanhood – oh and the joy of – ok, not so joy of – moving along – MAN… What about MAN? I hear you ask… Abso-ruttin’-lutley – MAN – Man in the Moon – a man. Baron Munchausen, a Man, found the moon was ruled by – a MAN… Neil Armstrong – first MAN on the moon – well, ahem, except – still, today moons are prized by MEN – this very moon right here, this typical Marenghi Complex, hollowed out, despite the harsh clime, tricky atmo and the devil’s own storms come abashing – hollowed by MEN. Hard working, blue collar – tough living MEN – and prized by men – well, a MAN – that is ME. Ok, so this next one I’ll throw open to our contestants – or should I say – intruders!" As the mirthless laughter of Mr Universe cut through the hot metal and sweaty haze of the base, Malcolm Reynolds sighed deeply. "I preferred the Gorram Reh-hea-vers." He slurred. For good and furious measure he pounded a fist against the nearest iron wall. Angry with himself – angry with Mr Universe – angered with the whole kit an’ caboodle.

…………………………………..

Floating in Space came naturally to River Tam – no friction – no pressure – no feeling of pressure – of course – part of her mind could calculate the exact pressure of air or vacuum at least to a plausible approximation… she knew the equations – floating in space. Sometimes in space she wore a protective suit with a funny helmet – liked to puff her face up inside it like a frog, like it was an air bubble… sometimes she wore a dress – sometimes a favourite jumper, warm with the wearing and the handing down – all depended on the space she was floating in… right now she was suspended, balanced like a pendulum above the dying mind of a young hunter, a young killer ebbing away somewhere in the bowels of the base - a killer that had been killed… the one that had failed to kill THEM. Dying now – and buried, walled up in a dark metallic crypt. Walls meant little to River Tam – she was floating in space – no power in the ‘verse could stop her. She was talking – to herself as usual - her voice was not her own.

"Lost him in the snow my bro – l’il bro always lookin’ up to me – took him up into the black, said I wouldn’t n’more. "Schooling comes first" – always cryin’ on like that an’ sayin’ he were so ‘gifted’ – what about me? I gifted him the truth of things an’ who we were – are – hunters – like unto our Fathers… " "So I hunt for him – found him too… an’ he weren’t in no school – blue hands seen to that – maybe – found him in a fleet a Reavers – one a them now - everything confused – that was after – yeah – I was looking for you, Zoe Alleyne – easy meat – coz you’s weak now - done lost your mate n all – no, that was later – uh – done the deal, had the contract from the Gentleman – got myself a place in the ‘lliance, like nuthin cept a slave – "Tea sir? Cup a tea?" - to watch for yer – an’ gorram if you didn’t help bring the whole sky down – sky fulla Reavers – seen the look on the Operative’s face… sky fulla Reavers – brought my Bro back home to me… but he was nuthin’ – he was prey." …………………………………… "What no laughter people? C’mon guys – chuckles are my oxygen – ok, deal – any laydeez in the house? I know – you only came to get my hot and happening autograph – sorry to disappoint since, y’know – not actually here – but if you smile real nice for the camera I might pick up a visual - wherever I am - and let you live. Oh sorry, I’ll do that again – Let – You – Live!! That was better huh." On the screen Mr Universe, clearly enjoying himself leant forward and pressed a button – instantly the image changed – a picture of a giant red button and an over size finger. The two were rapidly connected. "Oh no Mr Universe please don’t", he was mock squealing now, "don’t press THE RED BUTTON!" The button got pressed. "Because it would get pressed," said Mr Universe, shaking his head now again onscreen. "Chuckles are my oxygen – but it looks like yours is, well… oxygen!" He grinned his very best shit-eating grin. "Well, looks like things are getting exciting now! Lenore’s on the edge of her seat!"

……………………………………

The moon base complex gave a shudder – among the chaos of pounding mechanics and electrical systems – the clang of doors – it shuddered violently and then exhaled. It was a long breath and ragged – forced between the teeth of gates and gratings, through vents and micro-holes, and out - to be snatched away on the howling desiccated surface. The many separate mouths of the moon clamped shut with finality. Mr Universe’s moon was finally a mausoleum. ……………………………………

Malcolm Reynolds was leaning heavily against the nearest accommodating wall. His body was still shaking – at least down the right side – his legs were stiff and buckled in as if blasted into premature old age. The face however, despite a glassy look, was pure Mal. He was making efforts to speak. "Dhon’t bee look-ing at - me - like - that Zoe. Aint – aint like I - ne-never k-killed a b-boy afore." He closed his eyes – furious with his inability to form words correctly. Closed his eyes – saw the same damn scene as ever – a world away – a blasted Haven – Haven for none – and not the blurry figure - crawling - waving a pathetic rag of white – crawling - tiny among the metal wreckage, the smoke, the flame and the wrath of Mal’s trigger figure. Stopped crawling.

Zoe Alleyne was not listening, though she nodded. She was looking for a way out… when the seals came down they had cut off the main exits but maybe the darkness hid – THERE! – Crawl space… mechanic’s most likely. She pointed with a long arm. "Sir? We need to be moving." She was aware of the stale taste of the air – and the sweat forming on her brow. …………………………………… Kaylee remembered the bite of airlessness only too well – when Serenity had been drifting in space with her air gone – it had… hurt –and there had been no quickness to the hurting either – it had been slow – it had been… But the crew had been together – that time… now, well it was like Mr Universe had said – this place’d seemed to gobble them right up. And this time – hell, go-se on ‘this time’ – and on the gloating face of Mr Universe too! Chur ni-duh! She knew a basic security protocol when she saw one – could scream at herself for having triggered it – as she musta – musta been her – wiring up the screens an all – to find the Reaver, so Simon could see, maybe, River. And no security protocol was gonna get the better of her now – an override is an override is an override - a good mantra. Every protocol got one Kaylee - you just need to bury yourself even deeper in wire and plastic and metal – And so she did.

…………………………………

Simon Tam busied himself to prevent his mind calculating cubic air capacity – lung capacity – heat as energy wastage and the other bio-variables that would lead to a rapid death. He concentrated instead on thinking on the base – the sprawling luna complex he was trapped in – like a blood clot in a dying man’s veins. Gah! Even he wondered at times if he had been around his sister too long – ok, ok, so not a blood clot - but the Luna body WAS dying – and he, where was he? Actually pretty much in a vein – leading out from the belly of the base – where he had left the Captain – before all the confusion – the sliding panels, the seals, the heat and the no air. So not a GOOD vein… what he needed was another way – what he needed was – "Nerves". He said it aloud. Twisting around the confined space – and peering through the unhelpful greenish murk – until he found – until he would find – until –YES! A panel – a small panel, hot to the touch now but one that he could prize open with tense fingers clawing at the edges. Inside the mess of wires made the pipe-way seem impossibly constrained but he began to push his way in - squeezing between the knots and clusters of warm tubing – injecting himself into the system. Travelling up the nerve. The sweat pouring from him might actually help – provided it didn’t electrocute him first. …………………………………

Jayne Cobb had been breathing in Reaver breath for a long time now – the thing sat across him – lay on him – crouched rigid and held by its chain. A memory flash – Cats’ll steal a boy’s breath Jayne – you give it up now – but Ma… And the Reaver had been breathing him in. Aint right Aint right Aint right – Jayne had repeated numbly to himself. A different man might have gone mad under such a circumstance. Not Cobb. Hell, he mighta been madder’n a mule anyways… but the (not quite a) Hero of Jayne’s Town weren’t like to be caught fearing too long. And it was just a kid was all… scarifying as hell maybe – but them helpless eyes – the doggish hang of the mouth – was even kinda… well, cute. If he hadn’t been locked rigid he woulda shook himself. Mad after all I guess . His ears still worked though – he could hear just fine the groanings of the Luna station – the panicked voices blurting out of wall communicators – and Mr ruttin Universe doing his dead damnedest to kill em all. If he could make himself move again – and he was straining every unfeeling sinew to do so – he made a solemn vow to dig up the corpse of that hwoon dahn and kill him again. Right about now he also made a vow that once he was up on his hind legs he would get the nearest shuttle – get the hell of this rock and away from Malcolm Reynolds and all he had lead him too. And it was then that a grating burst open above him and Doctor Simon Tam fell through it in heap to land on top of them both.

…………………………..

Inara Serra had never seen anyone talking in tongues before – let alone spoken to them as the weird went down… but, well, here she was… River conjuring up voices, words, expressions – facial expressions – as she seemed to dance between dialogues that Inara herself received only fractured pieces of – like tuning a radio and finding a half dozen colliding stations. And she never liked the radio – some in the Guildhall had smuggled them into the dorms for comfort. Inara had scorned such a sentimental thing. River herself was breathing heavily now – using up the gorram air – thought Inara. She was beyond scared – scared – such a useless word – scared got left behind the morning that the Operative had violated her home. She closed her eyes – forced her mind to list the Chinese words that held so much more meaning – more truth – than ’scared’. It was hard work – River was carrying on – and the voice of Mr Universe was gleefully counting down the seconds till their asphyxiated demise, intermixed with the high decibel cussing of Kaylee and the sound of wrenching equipment, the whir of tools. The sheer noise of it all. Merciful Buddha…

…………………………..

It had taken an unseemly length of time to untangle themselves but finally the sweat soaked gasping Tam boy had done it. Couldn’t roll the Reaver off Jayne though, he was getting weak – his lips were a nasty looking blue – and then shot em both fulla what the lord only knew. The Reaver began to hiss and wriggle and Jayne began to tremble – that weren’t fair now surely – shaking like an infant frighted – and weren’t scared even. Couldn’t say what he WAS though – aint words for a thing like lying under a wriggling boy Reaver. Jayne thought he caught a mischievous flash in the Doc’s eyes. "You enjoyin’ this?!" Tried to curse at him in Chinese – but his sluggish vocal chords were unresponsive. Simon looked down at him intently. "I NEVER enjoy the suffering of others." His mouth was a twisted fish-like ‘O’ – tryna draw breath that weren’t there. Jayne snapped into focus. "Ok Doc,’ whatever. Time to get the hell out of here." Simon had his his hands flat on his knees now – looked up desperately. "You – you can do that?" "Been waitin’ to do nuthin’ else." Jaw clenched, the big man clambered to his feet. What this situation needed was a Big Damn Hero. That’ll be me again then, thought Jayne.

…………………………..

Kaylee paused for a moment – the rational part of her mind knew that a constant stream of Chinese invective weren’t nuthin but wasting oxygen – her ribs felt sore under her shirt – her legs watery in their heavy boots… If anything, it was kinda handy to be half tied as she was, by electrical wiring and tape and hot solder, stopped them damn legs from giving way. She had made a visual link – that was good, that was real good – she could see the limping Captain, she could see Zoe – and her heart had leapt as she saw Simon round a bend behind them – followed by Jayne and – and – and – wuh de ma – a Reaver – a Reaver! Couldn’t do more’n watch the various faces show relief and horror – god and they looked so sick now… The invective was back on.

…………………………. The sound of Kaylee cursing was beginning to ware the nerves of all – Captain Malcolm (Never a Patient Man) Reynolds included. He punched the nearest wall comm. and yelled breathlessly – "Gorramit Kaylee – quit your yammering!" There was an abrupt silence. Hurt even. A deep breath is hard when there aint no oxygen, Mal did his best. "We’re going at this wrong headed Kaylee – you got us this far but…" "I – I know Capt’n – it’s like something’s fighting me…" Reynolds nodded to himself. "It is, Control. Has t’be a central control somewhere." "But this IS the control deck – all the screens and gizmos are here…" "Not everything’s there Kaylee." There was a pause. "Y’mean…" "Lenore – yep." Mal made a gesture – almost wiping his hands against the wall. "Figure it’d be typical of Mr U to use his damn LoveBot ™ as a main control…" Jayne looked up from sniffing the feathers twined iin the back of the Reaver boy’s hair. Cobb was annoyed. "He had a LoveBot™? I never seen no LoveBot™. How come I never seen that Mal?" "Shuddup Jayne. Kaylee – She’s – It’s – tyen shio duh! – Lenore’s in my cabin. If I can get back there – we could get control back, maybe." "But she’s switched off! I don’t get how-" her panic was rising again, but Jayne was still pressing his point. "Maybe she aint switched off Kaylee. You been makin’ like the monkey Mal?" "Jayne! Nee mun doh BEE-jway! – of course she’s OFF! But maybe there’s a transmission anyhow – aint really no OFF with a computer – someone told me that once…" "That’d be me – an’ I was right!" Kaylee brightened – and hearing so hapied the Captain a great deal. "An’ even if, "he said, " – you got to figure she’d have the override – case Mr U triggered the security himself in error – just tell Lenore and it’s cancelled." "So nuthin but a fancy burglar alarm?" "It’s likely. I’m hoping." Zoe was always one to appreciate an enemy’s moves. "Clever though – separating us like it has." River Tam was at her most fey – her voice floating out over the line. "Little people in boxes – box themselves in anyhow – didn’t need no/one to do that." Mal took it in his stride. "Thank you, we surely feel better for that eeiresome little insight. Kaylee – can you punch us a way through to Serenity – don’t have to be for long – Ship’s got air on her as well as Lenore. Can we do that?" "Sure Cap’ – but it won’t hold for long – pathway’ll get overridden same as ever." "Then we’ll be quick. Let’s roll."

………………………………………………. End of pt 5

..........................................................................

Chapter Six: Find out something only dead men know.

River Tam snapped back to herself at the sound of the frantic banging on the door. "Mei-mei, it’s me – Simon, open up!" Inara opened her eyes and for a moment watched as River stared at the door – her eyes looking through and beyond. "Wasting his strength – the tolerance of his body to the lack of air means" – "Means we’re getting the hell out of here!" snapped Inara, trying to shove the stacked furniture to one side. "C’mon and help me. You heard the Captain – we need to get to Serenity – there’s air onboard!" Simon’s ragged yell through the door was some sort of agreement. Out of nowhere the furniture seemed to fling itself across the room. River Tam was on the door instantly – wrenching it open wide and allowing the pale figure of Simon to collapse into her arms. "No power in the ‘verse… remember?" River whispered to him. Dizzy now, Inara lurched forward and into the corridor with them.

………………………………………………..

Malcolm Reynolds took it for granted that he could find his way back to Serenity – didn’t matter how lost he got - (aint ‘lost’ but a technicality when you’re on the inside of a place, anyhow?) - nor how twisted the paths, corridors, walkways – gorram intersections and junctions – he was heading back to his ship and hat was that. Of course a small voice did make a mental note to try and remember to thank Kaylee for clearing a way – and Jayne for knowing it - but it was a small voice not often listened to. So the boat was there – the loading bay door was open and he was in. Leant for a moment against the reassuring familiar walls as the others followed – then thumped the switch that sealed the ship. Silently the rest of his crew flopped where they stood mouths open and working slackly. Hands on his knees, the Captain took a long slow breath. The voice of the ship crooned out that all air functions were normal. Time to get Lenore.

………………………

Kaylee had managed to mute the voice of Mr Universe, finally – even as the doors she had opened began to shut again – muting him was good, a good thing. If that was to be her last living action – well, it weren’t so bad. Her head was spinning now and all she could see were great blots of inky black and searing flashes of white. Maybe she fainted some – who could swear? Time had fallen into the liquid fire in her eyes and the dry pain of her lungs and – and – Rough hands were sweeping her up. "Easy Kaylee, easy girl." If Jayne Cobb had meant to reassure – the cutting visor wasn’t helping any. Kaylee wriggled frantic for a moment till he ripped the mask free. Next to him, Mal was doing the same. Kaylee felt something press against her mouth – and she damn near fainted again at the oxygen’s kiss. Jayne’s face was crumpled in concern – "Is she?…" "Tank’s working – she’s getting it." She herself waved wanly in reply. Mal wasted no time – he had lugged the LoveBot™ on his back – and now with an awkward movement he dropped Lenore onto the deck. The thump she made was awful corpse like. "You wake enough to wire her in?" The Captain had regained the use of his tongue but all he could seem to express right now was fatigue. Reluctantly handing back the oxygen tube to Jayne, Kaylee held her breath as she wired the machine into the main console – weren’t but a simple thing, thank goodness. Just giving the creepyfying looking thing some power. There was a sudden shudder from the doll like device as it awakened. A fluttering of eyelids – and Kaylee turned away. The young mechanic could hear the Captain’s urgent tones. "Lenore? Quit this security tomfoolery – shut the shut down off, no!" The LoveBot™ seemed to consider awhile and then a thin female voice said "Security protocol override needs a password Mal" "Gorram it Lenore you know us! Mr Universe is dead, you don’t need to…" "Killed me Mal, killed with a sword." The voice this time was the dead man’s himself. Kaylee flinched. "But there’s still a password Mal." The LoveBot™ resumed. Jayne growled menacingly "You got your wiring twisted wahg-ba – you need me to rip it out for you?" "Not helping Jayne." Reynolds was looking intently at the blank faced female machine and rubbing his jaw. "Password is what the lady wants… then…" He trailed off, thinking hard. "Pain." He said finally. Jayne grinned reaching for his cutting tools but his movements were cut short as Lenore said distinctly, "Password accepted." There was silence – abruptly and all at once. The shrill alarms and mechanical mayhem they had gotten used to were cut off. Silence. If anything, it felt louder somehow. Then the sound of gears and pistons and hydraulics was resumed – exits were unsealed, air flooded back into the base. "Killjoys", mouthed Mr Universe from the screen – and blinked out of existence.

………………………

"I don’t get it Mal – how come you figured the password?" The exhausted trio were stumbling at last into Serenity’s welcoming bay. Reynolds and Cobb dumped the heavy cutting tools, the space suit tanks and the unplugged Lenore with audible relief. "Pain – typical Mr Universe. Lenore, she – it – the poem, ‘a paean to old days’." Despite himself, the Captain threw a quick look at Inara – but there was none of the expected sarcasm. "Edgar Allen Poe" was all she said. Meantime Cobb had finished removing the tools. "Well party’s over I guess, you won’t needing"- he swept Lenore back up into his arms. "Jayne!" The Catain barked. "Wha-?" "No Jayne – that’s an order!" He weren’t too worn out to glare. "You aint the Boss of me Mal…" Jayne in turn was sulky. Inara rolled her eyes. "I’ll take her – it – it could be very instructional for the girls in training." Jayne’s head near jerked off its shoulders before he managed to croak -"I’ll be in my bunk".

…………………………………………………….

Boy had learned the ghost dance from his brother – always taught him true – the slow moves calling on the All Father – painted themselves white as the snow. "We ghosts now for real – we aint but spirits Bro’ y’get that? Aint but spirits floatin’… none a them can hurt us now." No hurt – even when they took him – took him away – and his Brother hidin’ out somewhere deep in the white and himself just naked and scared and looking at the paint on his arm… some of it came off on the gloves of the man talking at him – taking him away… came off all smeared on the blue of his gloves and the man struck him upside the head – made his ear bleed. Boy learned to love the taste of blood – the metal salt taste like to licking a battery. Learned to love the sight all red and spreading – falling onto the deck, splashing over metal like the snow had done back home. Learned to love the feel so comfort sticky – loved the feel so even in the dark – even in the place they left him – in the dark with the dead boys floatin’ – he could wrap himself in it like toffee and smile. Boy guessed the Man had felt that way – guessed that ALL the men had felt that way – the school men, the ship men, the blue men – all seemed to want to conjure the blood. That musta been the truth of it… ‘gifted’ – Boy figured it meant good blood, a lot of blood. Coz the other ‘gifted’ kids they had it too. Floatin’ in the dark with him. But Boy sang in the dark – and the other kids stayed shut up in the mouth. "That’s where you’re special Bro…" Whispered his brother now and real gentle. "That’s your real gift – and you don’t have to think on any of it now – don’t think on nuthin but the singing and the floatin. I found you now Bro. I’m taking you home." "Home?" croaked the Reaver boy – barely was a word at all, it fell from the split of his tongue like a dead leaf off a branch come the first shake of winter. Boy hadn’t known but winter it seemed. "Yes," said River Tam, kneeling before him and matching the vacant eyes with the deep of her own. "Home is where it’s safe. You’ll be safe now." She looked across the room then at her own Brother… Simon Tam, stood silently watching, for all the ‘verse like a priestess’ acolyte, from the edge of the room – but he was balanced on the balls of his feet as if ready to jump forward and sweep River away, his eyes a troubled mix of concern and awe - and smiled.

………………………….

Inara could look like living fire when she had a mind to – even as she spun away – leaning back and fixing him with a look as would roast a man to cinders – Mal couldn’t help but admire the lady. "So, then – self obsessed as always huh Mal?" Nor could keep from arguing. "Self ob – what – you don’t want me to go? You have an opinion on my movements – cuz if we’re talking obsessive…" Inara could use silence very effectively. Mal looked down. "I’m just trying to do the right thing here." The Companion was not letting that count for much though. "The right thing for you Mal – maybe," she said. "You have a sudden attack of conscience, fine – it’s just a shame you can’t have a sudden attack of empathy too." "Huh?" "Gorram Mal you dumb Pi-gu – ZOE just lost her husband!" "Wash? I don’t hardly recall you ever spoke to the man…" Inara struck him them – and it was a forceful blow. "DA-SHIONG BAO-JAH SHR DUH LA-DOO-TZE!!!" He readied a more coherent retort even as he rubbed his face – but the companion had already stormed away and headed for her shuttle. He was still standing there when Zoe arrived with a cache of weapons to stow. The Captain sighed. "Best get it over with quick Zoe." The woman shifted her weight. "You set to do this then?" Her voice was cool as always. "Yep. Way I figure – I owe to the boy – man – damn it – whoever – corpse – back on Haven, to see for myself." Zoe gave a minimal shake of the head but it was revealing. "And do what Sir? Inform the next of kin? Figure the Alliance has its hands full of bad telegrams just now on account of us." Mal was looking her through her though. "I just need to… know." Zoe’s anger was acid leaking between her words. "Know? Know? Can’t say I KNOW you too well any more Captain." "Not sure I know myself Zoe…" And with that he was spent – the last few hours went out of him – and he sagged heavy to the floor. Hugging himself with his arms he realised for the first time that he was still without his shirt. He looked up at Zoe and there was something desperate in the grin he gave her. "But I can find my pants in the dark and that’s a start surely…?" In the all the time she had known him – Zoe Alleyne could not remember Malcolm Reynolds ever appealing to her. Not once. He stood before her looking almost like the boy from the volunteer Independent ranks she had first met so long ago. So much had changed since then… and not so much. She bit back an instinctive "Yes Sir, maybe it is as that." – said firmly. She thought back to the Hunter – so sure it had her nailed, weak, mate-less. "You’ve you’re your husband" The killer had said,, flat eyed and assured. "Yeah…" Zoe had replied and met the gaze easily – "my first." She was an Alleyne all right. "Time will tell Captain."

……………………………………….

Kaylee sat despondently on the edge of her bunk – gazing blank at the wall with its pretty coverings and decorations. There was a knock on the door. "Go away," she called back and then whispered to herself. "Hell, it’s what you’re all doing anyways." Tomorrow, or the next day – or soon, the shuttles would leave. Inara and Mal and Jayne and Simon. All gone. Simon would be gone.

……………………………………….

"You really wanna go back in there?" Mal was stood with a nervous looking Simon before the door of the med bay that held the Reaver Boy. The Doctor let out a long ragged breath. "It’s fine – I have him sedated." He paused. " You know, you’re not supposed to see the Doctor backstage," he said, trying for humour "it’s like peeping behind a magic show." He grinned wanly then assumed, as best he could, the mask of professionalism. Reached for the door lock. "Weren’t talking of that infant crazy you got locked up – and from what I hear bound ready for transport?" Tam nodded – a little disconcerted – Mal was looking him in the eye with genuine concern. "Captain?" "Kaylee tells me you’re looking to come back with friends – fix up the base some – right? You planning on being this years Mr Universe?" Simon’s jaw set firm, quite suddenly. "Actually Captain I do… I could be… useful. I’ll need help – I think I can get it too… I still have contacts in the underground…" Mal snorted – which Simon ignored as he continued, "they’ll keep the Reaver safe from the Alliance." The Captain raised an eyebrow. "But not you – not your sister?" Simon chose his words carefully. "River is safest with me, still. And yes, Captain – I’m coming back here. Mr Universe had access to all sorts of information – we could get that flowing again… We sent one wave already, maybe we could…" Reynolds laughed out loud. "Simon Tam – are you aiming to misbehave?" "Well I, uh, - I guess I am." And then? Well there they damn well were - smiling at each other… and the first time in an age at that.

…………… the end ………………………………………………………………………..

any comments gladly welcome:) thanks to those whose comments have been so supportive to date.

COMMENTS

Thursday, December 13, 2007 3:31 AM

KIMBER


Heey!!

Glad to see you in the BSR again =)

"Simon Tam – are you aiming to misbehave?"

"Well I, uh, - I guess I am."

I never thpught I'd see the day when Simon Tam aims to misbehaved after he put a thorn on the alliance flesh once and got in so much trouble because of it :) But I guess for River... he would die in a heartbeat ;)luv this one a lot!

Keep flying ;)

Thursday, December 13, 2007 4:19 AM

COLT999


Welcome back Wytchy. Thanks for wrapping this up. I enjoyed it.

Thursday, December 13, 2007 1:07 PM

LEIASKY


Very nice wrapup to a nail biting story:)

Friday, December 14, 2007 5:41 PM

MIRANDAGHOST


"Of course a small voice did make a mental note to try and remember to thank Kaylee for clearing a way – and Jayne for knowing it - but it was a small voice not often listened to."
- So true!

It is of interest to me how, of all the crew, Kaylee gets left outside in the (rapidly increasing) cold, while the others make it to the ship. It doesn't seem to have had much of an effect on her, but I imagine that's because she's still numb after nearly being eaten by Reavers that a little asphyxiation (or freezing, according to River) doesn't seem like that big of a deal. That just shows how strong her character really can be, and when push comes to shove, she's ready to die for her crewmates.

Another wonderful fic, and my thanks for ending it properly.

Stay shiny,
~MG


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